'Hippie' baby product captivates China

IN 2008, a “hippie, niche” Tasmanian product arrived on the bourgeois high chairs of China.

A year earlier Tasmanian Pure Foods bought the then family-owned company, Bellamy’s Organic, to thrust the idea of organic baby food onto East Asian consciousness.

Revenue at the company leapt from $3 million in 2007, to $29.5 million in 2013, and with turnover in 2014 tipped to exceed $50m, chief executive Laura McBain envisaged further growth.

“We understood there were only 200,000 babies born in Australia every year, compared to 20 million in China, so even if you have a large market share it’s still pretty small,” said Mrs McBain, whose plunge in the Chinese market was based on “gut instinct and feel”.

Patience and tenacity has bred success in the most sensitive of export markets for the company, which “started off like a niche, crazy product and now we’ve evolved into a sophisticated mum’s must have”.

Dairy giant Fonterra’s botulism scare last year, where New Zealand authorities recalled 1000 tonnes of dairy products across seven countries, reminded Mrs McBain of how brand equity could quickly deteriorate.

“Fonterra suffered huge damage, not as a company, but as a country in terms of reputation on food safety,” said Mrs McBain, who fielded enquiries from concerned mothers at the time.

China’s fastidious approach to food security hasn’t impacted on Bellamy’s because of the nature of their business.

“They (Chinese government) have a raft of measures to protect their citizens, their babies and their children. Pretty much everything on your nutritional panel is tested before you go in, which is time consuming and expensive, but something we are already set up for,” she said.

However, Bellamy’s Organic’s eye-catching assault on the Chinese middle-class hasn’t been without its challenges.

A shrinking pool of domestic producers sees the company importing the majority of its produce from overseas, with New Zealand, South American and European growers all now part of its intricate supply chain.